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Rajdeep Sardesai
Friday , December 16, 2011 at 00 : 14

50 years of liberation: Is Goa losing its sheen?


We Indians are very good at celebrating the ritual of anniversaries. Perhaps, we believe that an annual ceremonial occasion entitles us to have selective amnesia the rest of the year. So, on the 10th anniversary of Parliament attacks, pious homages were paid to the dead, so what if it took one of the widows six years to get a petrol pump allotted? Now, the nation prepares for another anniversary. This weekend marks 50 years since Goa was 'liberated' from the Portuguese, the culmination of a long and at times bloody struggle which has never quite received its due in our nationalist historiography.

Like all grand anniversaries, this one too will be marked by pomp and spectacle. Goa's quaint capital Panjim will be brightly lit. Sonia Gandhi will address a public meeting. Music concerts and art exhibitions will be held. There will be fireworks along the beaches. Every effort will be made to hide the darker side of arguably India's most beautiful state.

That darker side has meant that a state which was once caricatured as a happy-go-lucky land of fish, feni and football is now targeted as home to drug, land and mining mafias. Remember one of this year's box office hits, Singham, was set in Goa, where Ajay Devgan plays the tough cop who aims to rid an entire system of baddies? Bollywood often takes its cue from real life. From Premnath playing the happily drunk fisherman Braganza in Bobby to Devgan as Bajirao Singham, the wheel has come full circle: the once idyllic Goa is now seen as paradise lost.

When did it all change? For most tourists, Goa is still the country's premier holiday destination. The hippies of the Beatles era have given way to a large domestic and low cost foreign tourist industry. Brand Goa for the tourist is defined by plenty of Sun, many beaches, all night bars, loud music and the occasional rave party: basically, a chance to rid oneself of the inhibitions of middle class India without the neighbour complaining. The more affluent have even bought themselves flats and houses, preferably with a view of the sea.

Brand Goa for the locals, on the other hand, has been defined by a certain social conservatism, strong family ties, village temples and churches, environmental consciousness and a fierce attachment to property. A clash between the two Goas was inevitable and lies at the heart of the state's travails.

The battle has been primarily fought over a tiny state's most precious commodity: land. From Mumbai and Delhi's real estate entrepreneurs to even the Russian mafia, Goa became fair game for those seeking a quick return on investment. In 2006, then chief minister Pratapsinh Rane, in a written reply in the Goa Assembly, stated that in the previous three years, as many as 482 properties had been sold to foreign nationals, including Russians.

In 2007, it was the sustained pressure from local activists that forced the Goa government to abandon its much-publicised regional plan, a scheme designed to ensure the parceling of the state's land, unmindful of the environmental consequences. Despite this, the most frequent sight in the Goan countryside even today is of rapid construction activity as farmlands give way to holiday homes.

Negotiating these land 'deals' are the state's politicians. Their clout within the village Panchayat system means that no sale is complete without the intervention of the local don turned neta. In a small state, the influence of the local MLA is much greater than in the big states where the chief minister wields a more dominant presence. No one exemplifies this better than the colourful Atanasio 'Babush' Monserrate, Goa's education minister, whose rather chequered CV includes a dozen criminal charges, including once attacking a police station. A three-time MLA, he has switched parties four times in a decade and has been part of both BJP and Congress governments. In a 40 member state Assembly, where every MLA has a price tag, Monserrate has become symbolic of a decaying political culture.        

Linked to land conflicts is the growing controversy over mining rights. Mining has been central to Goa's economy, a colonial legacy started by the Portuguese who awarded mining leases in perpetuity to some Goans. If the Goa assembly's Public Accounts Committee is to be believed, 15 million metric tones of ore were extracted illegally in the last three years, allegedly at a Rs 4,000 crore loss to the exchequer. The figures may be disputed, but what is generally accepted is that, like in neighbouring Karnataka, windfall profits have spurred illegal mining.

The answer is not, as is being suggested by some, a ban on illegal mining. Goa accounts for 60 per cent of the country's iron ore exports, and a ban on mining would cripple the state's economy. What the state needs is a mining regulator who can ensure a certain transparency in the functioning of a largely unregulated industry. Modern Goa needs speedier industrialisation in the same manner as it needs strong environmental protection laws.

In a sense, the polarised public debate on mining reflects the central dilemma of one of India's youngest states. To see Goa as an unchanging rural idyll would be to do disservice to an increasingly aspirational society. Goa cannot be confined to a picture perfect postcard where 'susegado' (or relaxed, timeless fun in Konkani) remains its calling card. But nor must it lose its unique status as a truly multi-cultural haven with a fragile eco-system that offers the best of the east and the west.    

Post-script: One of the greatest contemporary Goans, the iconic cartoonist Mario Miranda, died this week. Mario represented an older Goa, gentle and aesthetic. It's a Goa which must never die. Give me a Mario over a Monserrate any day!


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai was the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He has 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.


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